Top Things To See and Do in Bruges, Belgium

Bruges, Belgium
Bruges, Belgium | Photo by Despina Galani on Unsplash
Hanna Clarys

From lacemaking and canal boat tours to art in many forms – ice sculpture, Old Masters, even Michelangelo – there are many things to see and do in Bruges. And that’s not to mention the castles. Here are our top 10 picks of what to enjoy in Belgium’s most enchanting city. Did you know – Culture Trip now does bookable, small-group trips? Pick from authentic, immersive Epic Trips, compact and action-packed Mini Trips and sparkling, expansive Sailing Trips.

Basilica of the Holy Blood

The Basilica of the Holy Blood in Bruges is said to house the blood of Christ, collected by Joseph of Arimathea and brought to Belgium from the Holy Land. It sounds deeply religious, and Christian visitors will feel that way. However, the basilica is also worth experiencing regardless of faith. Stunning in its simplicity, it has some masterly decorations and historic value. It consists of two chapels; the one on the lower level is austere with very little decoration, while the Gothic upper level is alive with colour and detail. Every day at fixed hours, visitors can queue up to touch or kiss the cloth with the holy blood on.

The Ten Wijngaerde Beguinage

Imagine yourself back in time, in a place of peace and tranquility. A beguinage is an architectural complex created to house lay religious women. This one, founded in 1245, still looks medieval, with tiny white plastered houses surround a courtyard where yellow daffodils bloom in spring and the occasional nun hurries towards the chapel when mass is about to begin. This pure, untouched part of Bruges is a perfect spot to unwind, leave behind the city’s buzz for one beautiful moment and become totally zen.

Museum-Gallery Xpo: Salvador Dalí

Located in the Belfry, Bruges’s most prestigious building, this exhibition is an experience you won’t find elsewhere. An audiovisual spectacle with sensational and dramatic decor, it represents not only Dalí’s work but the character and vision of the artist’s life as well. A fantastic collection of graphic works, sculptures, aquarelles and drawings are on display, all bathed in a golden and pink light.

Windmill Walk

If you’re lucky enough to be in Bruges when it’s not raining, opt for a beautiful walk among the city’s remaining windmills. Four old, romantic-looking windmills still stand alongside the old moat and medieval city gates, on Bruges’s original city wall. Here you’ll find the perfect spot for a summer picnic. The Sint Janshuysmill was built in the 1770s and still grinds grain, while two of the mills have small museums inside. But it is the walk itself that visitors will enjoy most; quiet, green and overlooking the historic city centre on one side and the grand canal with charming houseboats on the other.

Groeningemuseum

Bruges is home to numerous museums, and one of the best is the Groeningemuseum. Displaying a giant collection of Flemish primitives by world famous painters such as Jan van Eyck and Hans Memling, this museum is the pride of the Flanders region. Marvel at the impossibly vivid colours, the detailed facial expressions of the painted figures and the often religiously inspired story of the paintings.

Rococo Lace Store

The city has always been famous for the handicraft of its lacemakers, traces of which are still to be found in 20-odd shops where lace is made and sold today. Rococo, which opened in 1833, offers the most extensive collection of old and contemporary pieces, selling the finest handiwork in romantic antique bobbin, needlepoint, ribbon lace and modern custom-made lace. Fun for children, and interested adults, are the demonstrations in its showroom – so you can see how these delicate works of art are created. Never again will you look at lace the same way.

Canal boat tour

Very touristy, perhaps, but one of the best ways to see Bruges is from the water. Overhanging willow trees, lush gardens above the waterline and old bridges overhead create a fairytale setting. Floating on the canals provides an entirely different view of the city’s historic centre, affording you close access to some of the town’s most incredible sites that might otherwise go unnoticed. If you’re looking for a romantic date, this is it.

Michelangelo’s Madonna With Child

The only sculpture that left Italy during Michelangelo’s lifetime, the Madonna with Child can be admired in the Church of our Lady in Bruges. It was carved around 1503 and bought by a Bruges merchant, who then donated it to the church. The marble sculpture is a small feature in the giant church, yet it attracts all the attention. It was removed by French occupiers in 1794 and later by the Germans in World War II, but has always found its way back. Nothing short of a miracle.

Ice sculpture festival

Bruges is gorgeous in winter when houses are covered with snow, the canals are frozen and the little alleys are alight with old lanterns. The yearly Ice Sculpture Festival adds to that fairy-tale feel, with an enormous exhibition of stunning ice sculptures, bathed in soft blueish and pinkish light. It is a paradise for children, who can wander around open-eyed, wonder-struck by the fantasy and magic radiating from the translucent sculptures. If you want to engage your little ones, bring them here.

The Belfry

This Unesco World Heritage site offers breathtaking views over the entire city of Bruges and its surroundings; that is what is provided after the 366-step climb to the top of the Belfry. This 83m (272ft) high building dates back to the 13th century. Originally built as part of the medieval town halls, the tower now houses the old treasury, the carillon and its 47 impressive bells. The Belfry is not the most exciting of attractions in Bruges, but it is the most important building in Bruges’ history, and therefore cannot be skipped.

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